The city of New Orleans is well-known as a vital city to the Creole culture in the United States. One of that city’s native sons, Marc Morial, proudly guided the city as Mayor for two full terms and oversaw great changes in New Orleans in the process. This piece looks at his life and achievements, political and professional.
Whether you agree or disagree, the city of New Orleans is viewed in popular culture as the capital city of the creole culture in the United States. The city hosts the largest creole population by number in America and is the center for the largest celebrations of creole culture, cuisine, and music in the country.
Marc Morial grew up in this city before the American Civil Rights movement achieved some of its greater goals, and watched as a young man as his father became mayor of New Orleans. A few short years later, Morial would follow in his father’s footsteps by himself becoming mayor of the city of New Orleans.
Throughout his life, this creole man has been dedicated to helping foster a more racially harmonious culture in the United States. His efforts started in, and remain focused on today, the creole culture that the city of New Orleans embodies.
Creole by Birth
On 3 January 1958 Marc Morial was born to parents Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial and Sybil (Haydel) Morial. Marc was the second of the couple’s five children and grew up in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. This particular neighborhood is considered to be, historically, the center of creole culture in New Orleans. Throughout the city’s history, most of New Orleans’ creole residents were born in the Seventh Ward.
As a young man Marc attended Jesuit High School where he graduated in 1976 before receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. He would go on to earn his Juris Doctor degree in 1983 at Georgetown University in the nation’s capital.
Although Marc earned his law degree and returned to his native New Orleans to open his own private practice, it would be the “family business” that eventually drew him in and helped accelerate his political and professional career. Marc’s father, Dutch Morial, was elected mayor of New Orleans in 1978 and would serve in the city’s top office until 1986.
Dutch Morial was the first African-American man to early a law degree from Louisiana State University (LSU) upon his graduation in 1954, but greater accolades were to come. When elected as major of the city of New Orleans in 1978, he became the city’s first African-American mayor and first creole mayor. Dutch Morial was himself a product of the city’s Seventh Ward, growing up there in the 1920s and 30s as the son of a cigar maker (Walter Etienne Morial) and seamstress (Leonie Morial).
Like his father before him, Marc would go on to become mayor of his hometown when he was elected to that office in 1994. Just as his father did, Marc would serve two full terms as the mayor of New Orleans and oversee drastic changes in the city’s image and cultural diversity.
Under Dutch Morial’s guidance, the city of New Orleans expanded its affirmative action hiring policies. Possessing one of America’s largest African-American populations (by percentage), New Orleans prior to the Civil Rights movement had been controlled primarily by wealthy, white citizens.
When Marc became mayor he promised to clean out the corrupt officials in City Hall and put an end to corruption on the city’s police force. During his first seven years as mayor, Marc maintained an approval rating right around 70%. Just as his father did, Marc worked to level the playing field for African-American residents and businesses in New Orleans. During his time in office, New Orleans underwent its greatest transformation in a generation.
The number of households living in the downtown area increased, tourism boomed and with it hotel construction, the number of households within city limits stabilized for the first time since the 1960s, and improvements to city infrastructure were made on a grand scale. Historic districts were revitalized and streetcar lines expanded and/or refurbished.
A Life of Service
While much of Marc’s career highlights emanate from his work as the mayor of New Orleans, his single focus has not always been just on his hometown. Prior to becoming the mayor, he served as a board member for the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In his post-mayoral life he was selected as the President and CEO of the National Urban League.
Although Marc has been tapped to serve as a member of the Debt Reduction Task Force (Bipartisan Policy Center), President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, and other civil rights organizations, his heart has remained with the people of New Orleans.
In the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Marc served as a mayor-in-spirit and continues to this day to ensure that the city’s long term recovery efforts aim to treat all the citizens of this great city alike.
During the immediate aftermath he called for a sense of civic unity among the people of New Orleans when word surfaced of potential plans to reduce the footprint of the city and even deny the ability of residents from certain neighborhoods to return home and rebuild. In his opinion, such a plan would “damage the sense of civic unity and create a deep divide in the vision for the future” of the city.
Though the plan never became a reality and New Orleans carried on rebuilding most, if not all, of the city’s neighborhoods, Marc was concerned that successful multiracial efforts to build civic unity before Katrina could be destroyed in the aftermath of this plan.
Today, Marc no longer lives full-time in New Orleans, but rest assured his beloved hometown is never far from his mind. His role at the New York City-based National Urban League, a civil rights organization that advocates for African-Americans and is against racial discrimination, allows him to ensure that NUL chapters in 35 states and Washington D.C. are working to provide equal life opportunities for all American citizens regardless of color or ethnicity.